11 January 2019
Akram Khan has an artistic reach that spans the centuries. In Until the Lions he sources an ancient traditional text and links it seamlessly to critical contemporary issues: women power, gender fluidity and the environment. Amba’s story, a fragment of the Mahabarata the great stream of Indian consciousness, is itself a complex tale here told in conflict fuelled segments. If the narrative nuances are elusive, the emotional dynamics between the three protagonists, Khan, Ching-Ying Chien and Joy Alpuerto Ritter, are riveting.
The drama plays out on a circular set resembling a cross cut tree segment that fractures as Amba (Chien) rips at the fissure with her bare hands angry at her rejection and trying to unbalance the universe. The four musicians circle the dance space and play an active role as passions soar. The rhythmic drive of Vincenzo Lamagna’s score remains central in the wealth of sounds and voices: guitar with padhant dynamics, ululation and song, percussion with instruments or simply clenched hands punching the stage to drive the action. The relationship between dance and music is faultless, particularly effective when the dancers join in pounding the stage with their staves to accent the rhythm.
The dance is superb. Khan strikes a powerful central figure working in a fusion of contemporary Khatak and proving he can still mesmerise an audience with his technical skill. His choreography for the two women defies categorisation employing a range of such extraordinary movements that at times they appear as mythical as the characters they represent. The women are equal in strength but strikingly different in personality. Chien’s body of mercurial fluidity expresses both vulnerable naivety and mystic fervour of terrifying intensity. Ritter’s character is less volatile but equally interesting. She morphs from woman to warrior and explores depth of movement that excite with their animal empathy. Together they create a trio of unique dance skills and qualities.
As Bheeshma, (Khan) dies at the hands of the two women – the one in spirit of the other incarnate – a chapter of the great saga closes and likewise, a chapter of dance history as Khan closes his dance career.